The difficulties of aging and listening to someone other than Jimi Hendrix


I’ve gotten older this month, as is the case with most months, up to a point.

I’m 33 now, which feels like a good number if not formerly impossible. Also like most months, there’s been a mix of good and bad, uppers and downers, where have I been, etc., and I’ve wound it all up on a downslide with the hope of lifting it all back up soon. This is a long-winded way of saying that I got some bad news and I moped around some. It’s life.

The way I pick myself up out of bad moods is that I turn to music. This isn’t unique to me, and it’s certainly not unusual, but some of the choices I made were telling. I immersed myself in the new Ryan Adams box set Live at Carnegie Hall, along with some of his older stuff like The Suicide Handbook, and I dove back into the world of Jimi Hendrix.

Specifically, I stayed within the realm of his posthumous releases, all the half-finished strokes of brilliance he was still pulling together or filing away when he died in September, 1970. As mind-blowing as his catalog was during his lifetime, it’s the live performances and the studio experimentations that pull me in more often than not.

I’ve gone through all these things before. When The Jimi Hendrix Experience was released in its four-disc, rarities-packed glory in college, I studied the entire package far greater than anything my ancient literature class had to offer. Through BBC Sessions and all the live albums and the more recent Valleys of Neptune and People, Hell and Angels, I’ve continued going through his work, an ongoing devotion to one of my favorite artists.

Right on cue, an item in the AV Club popped up today that confirmed my age and dwindling sense of adventure. It highlighted a study that investigated data from Spotify users and concluded, not too surprisingly, that after 33, new sounds are gone and listeners will fall back on what they like from then until the end of their days.

I read this just as I was starting sketch out a new Hendrix playlist, pulling together the best live version of each song in my library to listen to on an upcoming drive to Vermont. It was fitting and mildly horrifying all at once. I’ve actively tried to avoid this kind of musical atrophy, while feeling its welcoming embrace all the same. I have a lot of music on my shelves and hard drives. I could keep myself entertained for a long time.

But it’s the same spirit in the people I like that has kept me from falling totally into that so far. It’s nice to look at Adams and Hendrix and see these restless spirits that kept searching for something new. But Hendrix died at 27, of course, and his brain was wired differently enough that I think he could have been just as restlessly creative at 33 and 53 as he was then. Ryan Adams is hitting 40 now and is as crazy and productive as ever. I’m not either of them, but it’s nice to have goals, or at least points of inspiration.

Still falling back to whatever’s been around makes perfect sense in practice. When I’m feeling down, or weird, or just looking for some kind of comfort, I don’t automatically start digging through “Best of 2015” lists for the next, amazing record. I turn back to the ones I already love. I start listening to the same albums I’ve loved since high school, and then to the ones I discovered in my twenties. I go back through Ryan Adams’ ever-growing catalog. I turn to Jimi Hendrix and start making ridiculous playlists that I can sit with for hours.

Being in that situation isn’t necessarily ideal, since it makes it more and more likely that the next, exciting sound or song or record slips by. It’s always possible that the next all-time favorite hasn’t been recorded yet. So here I am, staring down the rest of my life and rage against the dying of the light, which here would be the same artists sections of the record store indefinitely until I’m dead.

I’ll try my best not to fall into that complete music stasis. But I won’t stop turning to the favorites for comfort. It’s life, I’m 33 and that has to be dealt with one way or another.

April 30, 2015

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